I have been struggling to come up with the words to express my anger, frustration, and sadness in response to ongoing and more recent injustices and violence against my black brothers and sisters. Although I know I only have control over how I choose to respond, I can’t help but wonder when will we learn? I don’t just mean us as a country, I mean us as a human race. It’s a never-ending cycle.
As a woman of color from Japanese American descent, sure I have encountered my fair share of racism. Growing up, kids made fun of my eyes and asked, “How can you see?” I have been called derogatory terms such as “Chink” and “Jap.” Men have assumed I am submissive and won’t speak up for myself. I am not Japanese enough because I don’t speak Japanese, but I am also not white enough because I look Asian. And even though I was born in America, people always assume I am foreign because of the way I look. I remember telling my mother when I was younger that I wished I was white because I would fit in and be “beautiful” after a white boy told me I was pretty for being Asian (whatever that means).
Yet, even as a person of color, I acknowledge that I have privilege. I grew up in a middle-class family with parents who are married going on 31 years. I never had to worry about getting a job to financially support my family and was able to get a private college education. Most importantly, I never had to fear for my life because of the color of my skin.
Our world is sick and has been way before the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutionalized racism has even pinned minority groups against one another. Many of my ancestors fed into the idea that Asians are the so-called “Model Minority,” and that has created a divide: the narrative of, “we are not ‘them’ and therefore it is not my problem” has gone on far too long.
I am not telling you about my experiences because I am trying to equate my encounters with racism to those of African Americans. I am sharing my stories because that is what I know, and if I know and experienced racism, chances are you, your neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, and loved ones have as well. That is not okay and should not be normalized. Racism is not dead. It never died. It just evolved and mutated.
This disease of institutionalized racism and implicit bias is wide-spread and so deeply rooted that many of us are completely unaware of it or have become de-sensitized to it. Yet, underneath the surface, there is so much pain that festers among those who are oppressed, threatened, and left behind. So, what happens? We see the fight or flight response in action, which is the natural physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived event, attack, or threat in order to survive.
From the moment we are born we are like sponges soaking in what we hear, see, and how others act around us. We then take all that information and put it into action in order to survive. The challenge is, once we develop habits, opinions, and behaviors, it is really hard to change them. But the only way to see change is to be change. This requires us to sit with what makes us uncomfortable, listen with the intent to understand, acknowledge our wrongdoings, and do something about it.
It’s so easy to look at ourselves and ask, “What can I do? I am just a small fish in a vast ocean and there are bigger fish that have more power than me.” I know I have been guilty of that too. But that way of thinking is small and brings us right back to where we started. I can look at myself and say, “I am just a yoga teacher, what can I do to affect change?” Or, I can say, “I am a yoga teacher who educates the importance of living your yoga not just practicing it.” This means, I have an opportunity to teach myself and others the value in using the yoga practice as a means to start the conversation with ourselves. I don’t mean spiritual bypassing. I mean really sitting with our own attachments, aversions, triggers, judgments, and biases. I mean taking ownership of what we can do as individuals to do better and be better. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone. Especially those in our community, nation and world who need it most. Because if one person gets left behind, it affects everyone. We may not see it at first, but eventually it all bubbles to the surface like it is now.
So, I challenge myself and you to take action. Sending love and prayers is not enough. Yes call, text, petition, and vote. But also remember that if actions do not carry beyond that then we are simply scratching the surface. Let’s have those difficult conversations with ourselves, our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and those we disagree with. We don’t all have to agree, but we must acknowledge, listen, respect, stand up for, and see one another.
Yes, I am a teacher, but you are too. You are both the teacher and student of your life with the opportunity to observe, learn, grow, communicate, and change. Let’s not throw that gift away. And if you forgot or lost sight of that, let’s start now.
"You must unlearn what you have learned." - Yoda
It's May the fourth! A day to celebrate the Star Wars series about a galaxy far, far away. And yet, here we are on planet Earth in our own reality that seems quite similar to a movie plot.
Even though I don't consider myself a huge Star Wars junkie, I remember going to the movies to see every release with my family. An outing I especially miss these days. Although I didn't realize it when I was younger, as I began practicing and studying yoga I saw a strong correlation between the themes of Star Wars and the yoga practice. One Yoda quote that especially reminds me of the first yoga sutra is, "You must unlearn what you have learned." In the yoga sutras (a foundational text on the theory and practice of yoga) the first one is Atha yoganushasanam which translates to "And now begins the practice of yoga.” Essentially, these two principles remind us that we must continue to learn from each present moment experience and set aside old habits and patterns and do not serve us.
Even though it may seem as though each day is the same because we are limited in what we can do and where we can go physically. We are limitless in our minds. We have the capability to see beyond what binds us and to create our own reality based on our perspective.
One of my friends and fellow Yoga Teacher, Dene recently said, "We are not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm." I know this is a trying and difficult time, but we can all learn something valuable whether about ourselves or our environment.
This time has personally reinforced the value of my yoga and meditation practice and the power of journaling my thoughts and experiences. I have also picked up a new hobby of gardening. Most importantly, I have learned that I am more resilient than I thought and that I am not alone in this.
What ever lessons you are learning in this process, may it carry you forward through this storm. And... May the fourth be with you.
With peace and love,
Like most of you I am going into week three of quarantine; something I never thought I would say. However, here we are. One day I feel optimistic and productive, other days I feel sluggish and depressed. In just a matter of three weeks I have gone through an emotional roller coaster and a complete lifestyle change, which is quite exhausting.
In my last blog post just two days into quarantine I said, “Remember, whatever you are feeling during this time is valid.” Every day since then, I have had to remind myself of that. It’s so easy to disregard your feelings, and I know I have gone through moments where I questioned the validity of them… Especially knowing other people in this world are going through so much worse.
In just three short weeks my income is nearly obsolete, and I will most likely need to file for unemployment and apply for a small business loan. This has brought up feelings of shame and negative self-talk. Yet, deep down I know that this is temporary, I am not defined by my circumstances and I am strong and resilient enough to respond mindfully to these conditions. I think deep down inside we all know that, no matter what we are going through during this time. Yes, we can feel what we feel and think what we think, but at a certain point we must pick ourselves up and keep on going.
More and more we are seeing the silver lining in all of this. Our world is cleaning itself from the clear canals of Venice to the improved air quality in Los Angeles. We are also working together to flatten the curve and keep each other safe and healthy. In my life the silver lining has been spending quality time with my family, connecting with friends, and still getting to do what I love. My husband and I are currently living with my parents, so we prepare dinner, watch TV, do puzzles, play board games, and are in the process of creating an herb garden. Since my schedule has slowed down, I have had the opportunity to connect with family members and even held virtual Happy Hours with friends. And, the most important thing is that we have a roof over our heads, enough food and water to sustain us, and we are all safe and healthy.
I still get to do what I love and am currently teaching meditation every weekday morning at 10:00 AM on Instagram live, recording guided meditation and filming online classes for my subscription, and will be teaching live classes on Zoom and Instagram. I am here to support you during this time and will keep you posted on future offerings. In the meantime, I hope that you and your loved ones remain healthy and safe.
With so much uncertainty, our default reactions can be triggered by stressors that can bring out some weird things. But remember, there is always a reason why people do the things that they do. Everyone is affected by COVID-19 in one way or another. Small businesses are struggling to keep their doors open, employees are getting laid off, individuals including myself have no pay or minimal work for several weeks, parents are scrambling for childcare, low income families may not be able to put food on the table or pay their rent, and much more. Please remember to be compassionate, kind, and respectful of others. We may not have control of how others choose to respond, but we can choose how we do. And remember... this too shall pass.
I am currently on day two of quarantine and I am not going to lie, I am going a little stir crazy. I am so used to going outside, socializing with people throughout the day, teaching my classes, and driving around town. Yet, this time in quarantine doesn't necessarily need to be boring, unproductive, and useless. We can still make valuable use of our time while giving ourselves permission to rest when needed.
Here are some tips to make valuable use of your time during quarantine:
When I first began teaching, I solely taught public classes at various studios and gyms. I remember the excitement of getting my first class on the regular schedule. One by one I added more classes until I was averaging 10-15 per week. It worked for a while until I realized it wasn’t sustainable. I was getting sick all the time and felt burnt out. I then decided to expand my offerings to include private classes and yoga retreats. This is where I really shined. When teaching my private classes I enjoy creating a personal experience just for them based on their goals, wants, and needs. When leading my retreats, I get the opportunity to travel and build a deeper connection with my students through the yoga practice. So, for about 3 years I focused on these offerings.
My mission has always been to make yoga accessible for everyone and to teach based on an individual’s unique experience within the practice. Yet, when I sat down and re-evaluated the focus of my work, I saw some gaps.
Although there is value in taking public classes, going on yoga retreats and experiencing private yoga, I realized that daily challenges may prevent us from starting or maintaining a yoga practice. A lack of time, finances, resources, accessibility, and many other factors could play a huge role in this. Once I mapped out these challenges, I set out to try and offer yoga to as many people as I can and through as many offerings as possible. Therefore, I created my online classes and virtual private classes to fill in those gaps.
Online classes allow you to practice from literally anywhere in the world. My classes range from five minutes to an hour and I offer a wide variety because I know everyone is on a different journey. There is everything from pose breakdowns to restorative classes, chair yoga, morning and evening classes, guided meditation, educational workshops, trigger point therapy, and much more. My online subscription is also extremely friendly for your wallet and allows you to practice at your own convenience without feeling self-conscious.
My virtual private classes are a bridge between my online subscription and public or private in-person classes. Thanks to technology, you can take a private class with me from anywhere in the world. All you need is access to Skype, Google Hangouts, or even FaceTime in a pinch. You will get the same personalized class plan from me at half the cost of an in-person private.
Now that I expanded my offerings to include public classes, private lessons, retreats, my online class subscription, and virtual privates you can integrate a yoga practice that meets your lifestyle demands.
In the weeks following the shocking news of the passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the 7 other people in the tragic helicopter crash, I have been at a loss for words. They say death is the hardest on the living especially for the families of those affected, but in this instance, I think the whole world is in mourning. After reading articles, watching interviews and seeing the outpouring of love and support at Kobe’s memorial and around the world it is clear that his impact is far-reaching.
Although, I initially felt as though my words would be insignificant, self-indulgent, and unnecessary, I have come to realize that if I doubt my own value, experiences, and words then how can I leave room for others to share their own?
I know life must go on, but I feel that in order to do so, it is important to reflect.
When I was a kid, my parents enrolled my brother and I in all sorts of activities. I tried tee-ball, soccer, gymnastics, hula, swimming, and volleyball. But from the age of five, basketball was my sport. The pure adrenaline of playing man-to-man defense. The roar of the crowd after making a basket. The thrill of blocking a shot or stealing the ball from my opponent. The camaraderie of being a part of a team. I loved every part of the game. I loved playing so much that even when I was given a rest on the bench, I would take a quick sip of water and go up to my coach and say, “Let me back in, I want to play.”
I remember watching Kobe and being in awe of his confidence, dedication, focus, and will to succeed. I always admired his ability to celebrate his wins without worrying about what other people might think of him; that is something that I have always struggled with. He inspired me to chase after my dreams no matter how big or small and to believe in myself.
Being on the court was truly the first place I experienced being in the zone, the equivalent of meditation in yoga. This is where I learned discipline, focus, determination, skill, intention, the importance of practice, as well as success and failure.
So now, whether I am throwing a wad of paper in the trash or grinding out the work to chase after my dreams I will be saying to myself, “Kobe!” Because it is the Mamba mentality that challenges us to push the envelope, work harder, and dream bigger. He has made an impact on my life and through his actions, showed me that anything is possible.
One of my dreams is to make yoga accessible to everyone to the best of my abilities. For years, students have approached me and asked whether I offer online classes or guided audio meditations. My response would always be, “eventually” or “one day.” So, I came up with excuses. I would say to myself, “I’m not ready,” “I don’t know how to edit videos,” “It is too time-consuming,” you name it. But I finally bit the bullet and decided to go for it.
I am excited and proud to announce that as of today I have officially launched my online yoga class library. I put my heart and soul into this and can’t wait for you to see it.
Over the weekend, I got together with long-time friends for a much-needed girls’ night. We caught up over sushi, picked up ice-cream for dessert and tried out my friends’ new Tarot Card deck. It was fun, exciting and nostalgic; like we were kids again.
We decided to pull Tarot Cards on our past, present and future. One by one we shuffled, cut and pulled our cards then shared about our experiences in life that may or may not connect with the cards. It was a wonderful and unique opportunity to reflect and verbally journal about all the challenges and growth we have made and are yet to make in our lives.
I was the last one to pull my cards. I flipped my three cards and revealed the rabbit card for my past, snake for my present, and zebra for my future.
The Rabbit: Past
The rabbit represents being scared of the future which can lead to becoming our own worst enemy. I found this to be very true. I have always been a worrier and oftentimes stressed out about the future. So much in fact that it would affect my sleep and cause stomach aches. I still struggle with this part of myself, but I find the more I try to suppress or fight against it the more problems it creates. These qualities that I used to identify with to be the worst in myself, I am slowly learning to embrace and value.
The Snake: Present
The snake is the guardian of un-awakened magic and creative potential. When in balance this energy can mean prosperity, creativity and charisma. When out-of-balance this energy can lead to starting and stopping many things. Hmm… another interesting card. I shared with my friends that in the week leading up to my wedding I decided to write down personal and professional goals that I wanted to complete or begin by the end of 2019. One of those goals is to offer yoga online. I want to offer guided meditation, tutorials, classes, workshops, and educational tools. This is something I am currently working on. Even though I have absolutely no experience in film or editing, I am taking the steps towards where I want to be. I purchased all the film equipment, booked the Airbnb to shoot the content, and will essentially figure out the rest as I go. I plan to launch my online yoga classes January 1st.
The Zebra: Future
Lastly, the zebra symbolize the young at heart, well-cultured, and curious about life. This card got me really excited because in 2020 I have plenty of travel and adventure planned. In January I will lead a retreat to kick off the new year in San Luis Obispo, present at Elysia Yoga Convention in Greece in March, and in September I will lead a summer retreat in Mallorca, Spain. I highly value experiencing different cultures, meeting new people, and exploring new territory. It lights my soul on fire.
I personally don’t believe that my life is determined by these cards, but sometimes all we need is a little affirmation telling us that we are headed in the right direction.
I am finally settled back at home and getting back into the groove of things after a fun and exciting summer. In June I led a retreat in Amorgos, Greece, got married in August and in September led my final retreat of the year in Ubud, Bali. With such an eventful season, I was left feeling a little bittersweet. I was relieved that I didn’t have the stress of planning the wedding, but sad it was over because it was such an incredible day. I was grateful for my travels in Greece and Bali but wishing I could go back.
Of course, this is how the mind works. We love an experience and want to hold onto it forever or we hate an experience and want to avoid it all together. These attachments, aversions, and expectations create suffering. So instead of feeling sad that all these wonderful experiences have come to an end, I decided to reflect on what I learned or valued from each experience. This allows for the opportunity to appreciate without clinging. After all, when something ends, it allows for a new beginning.
From my time in Greece I appreciated the European lifestyle of slowing down and enjoying conversation with good company over amazing food and wine. From my wedding day, I truly valued living in the moment and taking a look around to see and experience pure love. And from my time in Bali, I was reminded to not just practice or teach yoga but to live it in every way possible.
Now you try… What did you learn, value, and cherish from your summer? And how can you take those experiences forward into the fall season?
A question I am often asked as a yoga retreat leader is, “How do you decide on where your next yoga retreat will be?” Of course, it is exciting to travel to new places that I have never been before, but more importantly it broadens my perspective and offers valuable lessons. In my role as a yoga teacher, experiencing different cultures reinforces what yoga means, "to yoke" or "connect." My students and I get to see first-hand that even if there are cultural differences, deep down inside we are connected because we are the same. We forget this.
I was born and raised in the South Bay of Los Angeles. So, for most of my life, aside from a year of college in New York, I have always lived and worked in the bubble of the South Bay. If you are from Los Angeles, you know for traffic reasons that you probably don’t venture outside of your bubble often. Because of this, we can become desensitized to the world around us.
I am finally settled back in my bubble after nearly 3 weeks in Greece. For the first half of my trip my fiancé and I explored Athens, Mykonos and Santorini. The last 8 days were spent on the island of Amorgos where I lead my yoga retreat. In this time, I learned several things about the customs and culture. The plumbing system isn’t as advanced as in the U.S. Let’s just say that you can’t flush toilet paper in the toilet. The people say, “no problem at all,” even if it might be big problem. And according to our tour guide, the sharks are vegetarian. But jokes aside, traveling to Greece reinforced why I lead yoga retreats in the first place. By trying different foods, exploring a new culture, meeting new people, and experiencing new sights, we expand our perspective.
On one of the guided tours with my retreat group, we went to a monastery called Agios Georgios Valsamitis. The nun who lives there opened her home to us and even served homemade cake. She was an interesting woman who had a family and children in Athens and decided to stay on Amorgos and inhabit that monastery after visiting the island on vacation. She has been living in the monastery as a nun for 9 years. Prior to her the last nun to live there died in the 19th century. As she explained the history and art of the monastery she left us with a few words. She said that animals in the world kill to survive, but that humans can kill for much worse. So, she asked us to pray for peace in the world. This brought tears to my eyes and opened my heart to the idea of praying even though it is not something I normally do.
After traveling halfway around the world to the small island of Amorgos with a population of only 2,000. A nun living in her own bubble (the monastery) reminded us that no matter where you come from, what you do or where you live, we all ultimately want the same things. To be happy, healthy, safe, and free. This is a learning lesson we can all be reminded of.
After my wedding in August I am heading off to another retreat. This time in Bali, Indonesia, part of the world that I have never been to. Another culture to experience and new people to meet and make connections with. That is why I am calling it Bali Yoga and Culture Retreat. Perhaps this retreat is the perfect way to get out of your bubble and reinforce your yoga practice through the educational experience of travel and cultural immersion.
In my yoga classes, I give my students freedom to explore in their practice and permission to move their bodies in untraditional ways. Recently when teaching Warrior II in class, I encouraged my students to discover what felt right for their bodies instead of looking at the alignment of their feet or knee over their ankle. I asked, “Do you feel pain or stress in your inner back knee? If the answer is yes, see what it feels like to step your back foot wider towards the side of the mat." I then asked, “Do you feel too much torque on your front hip or lower back? If so, try stepping your front foot wider towards the side edge of the mat or allow your front leg to rotate less externally." I encouraged my students to ask how they felt and to deviate from the "normal" alignment in favor of what felt better in their body. I saw glimmers of “aha” moments where students looked at me with excitement for being given permission to color outside the lines.
However, one student decided to say out loud, “but that is not right.” Her remark triggered something inside me. It reminded me of guru-like teachers not allowing for open conversation. It was as if a child asked, “why” and the teacher or parent said, “because, I said so.” Not a good enough answer for me. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to start a full-on conversation with her, but I did have the space to continue to show her what I meant. I said, “Instead of taking my word, try it for yourself. Ask questions, critically think, and be with each process.
We forget that we aren’t robots. We are constantly reminded by magazines and social media about what the “norm” should be. It has gotten better over the years, but we still see ideals of what our bodies “should” look like and in yoga land we see pictures of how our bodies should line up perfectly. So of course, it is easy to believe that narrative.
But remember, asana is just one tool to help us become more self-aware and to be present with what is. So, if we get caught up on the specifics of how the asana looks, we are missing the point of the practice all together.
My question is, if the traditional alignment of asana is causing pain, injury, or a lack of connection, perhaps we should try another alternative. Otherwise we are just being insane. One of my teachers said, “Instead of using the body to get into the pose, use the pose to get into the body.” In other words, the pose is just an idea. So why not take the idea and find ways to implement it in your own unique structure knowing every day is different?
As I said, don’t take it from me. Try it for yourself. I am leading a workshop on July 28th called Adapting Poses for Your Body. I would love for you to join me. Together we will break down the mechanics behind common yoga poses that are practiced in yoga asana classes and find fun and unique ways to apply it to you.
Hi, I'm Lauren. I love to travel, experience different cultures, and meet interesting people, so naturally I combined those two passions to teach yoga and lead retreats and workshops around the world. I love being outdoors, cuddling with my dog, hot tea, and engaging in conversation, This is my space to share my latest thoughts.